Thrilling finale: Whanganui’s Lochore Cup opponent changes three times in 30 minutes

Above: Whanganui and North Otago will run back their round seven game in the Lochore Cup final on Sunday

By Jared Smith –  Pics By Merrilyn George

Steelform Whanganui’s opponent for the Lochore Cup final on Sunday at Cooks Gardens changed three times in the space of a tense 30 minutes as the Bunnings Heartland Championship round-robin concluded on Saturday.

Like the Whanganui game against Thames Valley, Mid Canterbury had an earlier 2pm kickoff at home in Ashburton against winless Buller.

But what should have been a straight-forward task to secure four tries or more with a win to keep alive the hope of fourth spot, if not third, proved more difficult than intended.

The hosts were ultimately kept to a 22-3 scoreline, missing the crucial bonus point to keep themselves in the hunt for the Lochore game, if Whanganui lost and North Otago either lost or likewise missed a bonus point.

Prolific try-scoring No8 Seta Koroitamana got a double for Mid Canterbury, but scoring only one other try left them at long odds of making the trophy game, as Buller defended stoutly, with first-five Andrew Norton-Taylor snapping off a drop goal in the first half.

Putting up a big score over a winless visitor didn’t prove a problem for North Otago, who would ultimately book fourth place courtesy of a 36-5 win in Oamaru to end King Country’s hard season.

After a competitive first half, the Otago side scored their fourth try in the 60th minute for 22-5, and then blew out the scoreline with two more converted tries inside the last nine minutes.

Second-five Matatini Feke got a double for the home side, as they moved ahead of Mid-Canterbury with their bonus point.

But there was still the game underway in Gisborne, where Horowhenua-Kapiti and Poverty Bay played out perhaps the season’s most thrilling match.

Two points ahead of Mid-Canterbury and North Otago going into the last round, Horowhenua-Kapiti just needed the win to be safe for the Lochore game, possibly hosting if Whanganui lost, and with three minutes left on the clock, it appeared they were in, leading 33-29.

In very wet conditions, Poverty Bay had out-scored the visitors four tries to three, but the unerring boot of Horowhenua-Kapiti halfback Jack Tatu-Robinson, with 18 points, had the Lochore final in sight, helped by prop David McErlean getting a double.

But, wearing pink jerseys to honour “Women in rugby”, Poverty Bay got a succession of penalties to camp right to the tryline, and nearly two minutes into injury time, halfback Mario Counsell dived through on the ruck blindside for the match-winner, 34-33.

The devastating loss on a tight points table meant Horowhenua-Kapiti fell to seventh and missed out on any game this weekend, while Poverty Bay’s win means they will host the playoff for fifth against Mid Canterbury, having the better points differential after not playing the Cantabrians previously this season.

That game will be for the new Bill Osborne Shield, which going forward will become like the Ranfurly Shield in Heartland rugby.

Thames Valley’s defeat meant South Canterbury were in no danger of losing the hosting rights to the Meads Cup final, but the Timaru union still made sure of it to have an unbeaten round-robin with a 46-19 shutout of West Coast in Greymouth.

Far different to the 23-19 thriller two years ago in the Lochore Cup final, this time South Canterbury pulled away after leading 22-14 at halftime, scoring four more tries.

Wingers Kalavini Leatigaga and Sireli Buliruarua both got doubles.

South Canterbury will now look to rid themselves of the chokers tag once and for all – aiming to win their first Meads Cup and have only the third undefeated season in Heartland history, joining the 2008 and 2016 Whanganui sides.

In the game which had no bearing on the playoffs, East Coast closed out their best season since 2012 with a 34-19 win over Wairarapa Bush in Masterton.

With coach Hosea Gear not playing the fixture, he looked to his young brother and 19-test veteran Rico Gear to join the bench – making him the third former All Black and fourth Super Rugby player to don the sky blue jersey this season.

Leading from start to finish, although the home side wouldn’t lie down, the visitors dotted down five times, with centre Tawhao Stewart getting a double.

Round 8 results, November 6

Mid Canterbury 22 (Seta Koroitamana 2, Michael Hennings tries; Tom Reekie pen, 2 con) bt Buller 3 (Andrew Norton-Taylor drop goal). HT: 8-3.

South Canterbury 46 (Kalavini Leatigaga 2, Sireli Buliruarua 2, Vaka Taelega, Cam Russell, Henry Bryce; William Wright pen, 4 con) bt West Coast 19 (Amena Tukana, Jacob Lowe, Elliot Smith tries; Sean McClure 2 con). HT: 22-14.

North Otago 36 (Matatini Feke 2, Hayden Todd, Tony Taufa, Levi Emery, Ben Paton; Able Malalogo 2 con, Owen Davey con) bt King Country 5 (Leveson Gower try). HT: 5-0.

Poverty Bay 34 (Ted Walters, Keanu Taumata, Paroraian Manuel-Harman, Andrew Tautavalau, Mario Counsell tries; Manuel-Harman pen, 3 con) bt Horowhenua Kapiti 33 (David McErlean 2, Tautau Kapea tries; Jack Tatu-Robinson 4 pen, 3 con). HT: 17-8 Horowhenua Kapiti.

East Coast 34 (Tawhao Stewart 2, Jorian Tangaere, Hone Haerewa, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black, Sam Parkes tries; Te Rangi Fraser 2 con) bt Wairarapa Bush 19 (Tupou Lea’amanu, Tafa Tafa, Matt Masoe tries; Tipene Haira 2 con) HT: 19-7.

Whanganui 35 (Jamie Hughes, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Te Rangatira Waitokia, Craig Clare tries; Ethan Robinson 3 pen, con, Clare 2 con) bt Thames Valley 27 (Joe Cooke , Sam van der Walk tries; Todd Doolan 5 pen, con). HT: 18-16.